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Conservatives chafe as Van Hollen embraces new territory in Carroll

Redistricting leaves some Republicans wary of Democratic congressman

November 11, 2013|By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun

Van Hollen first won election in 2002 in a district that included a large portion of Montgomery County and a small slice of Prince George's County — both of which are heavily Democratic. In fact, Van Hollen benefited from the 2001 redistricting, which added Democrats to the 8th District to defeat Republican incumbent Constance A. Morella.

In 2011, the General Assembly and Gov. Martin O'Malley redrew the statewide map with an eye toward electing a seventh Democrat to Congress. Republicans in Carroll County and elsewhere were drawn out of the 6th Congressional District and added to other districts, including Van Hollen's, so the 6th could get more Democrats. The strategy had its intended effect. Longtime 6th District Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican, lost his seat last year to Democrat John Delaney.

Despite the skepticism from some conservatives, the new Republican territory doesn't present a significant challenge for Van Hollen. He remains widely popular in Montgomery County, which accounts for most of the district's population.

In 2010, he won reelection in the former district with 73 percent of the vote. Two years later, under the new map, he won 63 percent of the vote — still a significant margin by national standards.

But while Van Hollen is in no danger of losing the seat, the new territory has unquestionably changed the political character of his district. Under the old boundaries, 75 percent of district voters backed Obama's election in 2008. In the redrawn district, about 63 percent of voters would have picked Obama that year.

Van Hollen, 54, was born in Karachi, Pakistan, to a U.S. foreign service officer and a State Department intelligence analyst. His Baltimore-born father served as ambassador to Sri Lanka in the 1970s under Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. In addition to his time with Mathias, Van Hollen also worked for Democratic Gov. William Donald Schaefer and with former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes as a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He was elected to one term in the Maryland House of Delegates and two in the state Senate.

As the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Budget Committee, Van Hollen is now a top message man for his party on fiscal matters, including last month's government shutdown. He is serving on a 29-member committee charged with finding a budget deal by year's end, in part to avoid future shutdowns.

For some Republicans in Carroll, the concern is not over anything specific Van Hollen has done. Many remain angry over the redistricting itself — a process handled by the General Assembly. And they deeply disagree with Obama and other Democrats in Washington — on health care, taxes, business regulations and the nation's debt.

Even though most independent analysts do not rank Van Hollen among the most liberal House members, he has nevertheless voted with his party and ardently defended its position on most of those issues. And that, said 59-year-old Bob Kurland, makes him fair game for criticism.

"He can't possibly represent this district," said Kurland, a Westminster man who owns a towing business. "He is the quintessential, far-left liberal."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jfritze

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